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Angel of Destruction II

What you’ve done is good, oh merciless one.
By making a conflagration of my heart
You have done well.
My incense, if it lies unburnt, pours no perfume.
My lamp unlit gives no light.
What you’ve done is good, oh merciless one.
When my mind is mired in unmindfulness
Your touch is a shock, that is your blessing.
Timid and confused in the shadows, my eyes cannot see you.
Strike me with your lightning and make a bonfire of my darkness
Ei korechho bhalo, nithuro hey, nithuro hey, ei korechho bhalo
Emni kore hridoye mor teevro dohon jalo,
nithuro hey, nithuro hey, ei korechho bhalo
Amar e dhoop na purale gondho kichhui nahi dhale
Amar e deep na jalale dayena kichhui alo
Ei korechho bhalo, nithuro hey, nithuro hey, ei korechho bhalo
Jokhon thake ochetone e chitto amar
Aghat she je porosh tobo, shei to puroshkar
Ondhokare mohe laje, chokhe tomaye dekhi naje
Bojre tolo agun kore amar joto kalo
Ei korechho bhalo, nithuro hey, nithuro hey, ei korechho bhalo

– Rabindranath Tagore

The most precious thing in the world cannot be kept in any museum. It cannot be stored anywhere.
What doesn’t remind us of that fact distracts us from it.
Once our most beautiful and valuable things would have been displayed in a cathedral or a temple or a sacred spot in the landscape. The central purpose of this place would have been not to conserve or venerate the object but to support the activity of prayer.
Whether performed in a temple, mosque, church, forest, desert, mountain or river, prayer is the act of relinquishing the small mindedness one can get stuck in. It is the letting go of self-centredness to appreciate the flow of a larger pattern within which one is only a tiny part.

Selfless observation should not be confused with the idea of some sort of God. Over the last few hundred years objectivity and faith have found themselves head-to-head. But this is a futile battle of ideologies. Without the inner experience of selflessness, only the outer dogmas remain. Now Scientism has taken over from Religion to become a new orthodoxy. Its miracles dazzling us on every side. Museums are its cathedrals. But science leaves out an important part of the world.

What if the knowledge that the scientific method uncovers could be not just intellectually understood but consciously, physically experienced? Would we then act wisely, in practice rather than in theory? If we could actually feel all the costs of our actions personally, would it still be possible to dominate, manipulate and inflict pain on the world around us.

Unfortunately science is still incomplete because it holds compassion outside its field of enquiry. Our rationality cannot encompass the experience of anything, least of all pain. It can study it from the outside, experimenting on others, mapping their suffering, inflicting it here, alleviating it there. Science can chart change at every level of the universe from the atomic to the cosmic. Its abstract patterns can be displayed in the glass cases of museums to inspire our awe. But the most important fact can never be kept in any museum. The experience of change is something that can only be felt in oneself, with one’s whole self, heart and mind. Without this conscious, personal experience even the most beautiful museum is an empty shell, an unlit lamp, an unburnt stick of incense.

One could keep someone else’s experience in a museum, as a live exhibit. Just as one could keep a recording of a song. But this would simply be someone else’s performance. Unless it inspires the conscious experience of change in oneself it is simply a spectacle to gawp at, a commodity to consume, a dangerous distraction.

The museum, the temple, the sacred spot, even the lab, can be a place to remind and inspire, but surely the point of that reminder, that inspiration, is to cultivate the practice in oneself, to actually personally pray. When one is practiced enough it is no longer necessary to come to a special place to be reminded. The world becomes a constant reminder. We find ourselves already living in a temple.

There is a natural cycle throughout history whereby, from time to time, moribund trappings are destroyed to make way for a fresh living practice – the fall of Rome, the English Reformation, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, forest fires, asteroid impacts, ice ages, supernovae…

Perhaps we are in a time of great change now, or perhaps it has always felt like that. When you are drifting off, even a gentle touch on the shoulder can seem like a violent shock. But we should be thankful for that violence. The invisible damage we inflict in our sleep is much more terrible. We are asleep at the wheel of a vast armoured machine with our foot on the accelerator. We’ve already razed villages, forests, swamps, and glaciers. Now we’re coming up to a cliff edge.
Something has to go. It’s either the the whole tank with us in it, or the dreams we are so enjoying. Now that we are at last half awake we can choose which is more valuable.

There are many beautiful and inspiring objects in this museum and it would be a shame to lose them, but there is one thing more important than all the others and it cannot be stored anywhere. If a museum could become a place of prayer I would come and live in it.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Tom Stephenson permalink
    03/08/2009 8:43 am

    One person falling asleep whilst driving a tank will – sooner or later – wake up. A tank being driven by a committee of billions of people is not being driven – it’s out of control. Also, it’s not necessarily a tank at all – an armoured vehicle is something that has been deliberately designed to withstand attack. The vehicle we are in just happens to be bigger than anything around it, and it has to be because of the sheer numbers of passengers. Also, we are not asleep, we are just hanging on for dear life, whilst a couple of people on the outside shout at us to stop. ‘Not waving, but drowning’.

    We would stop it if we could, Ansuman, but if – by the power of prayer – you can stuff that genie back into the bottle, then I would do it now if I were you.

  2. 03/08/2009 10:36 am

    With my prayer I can only stop myself.
    You have to be your own karma-chanic.

  3. Cath permalink
    03/08/2009 5:39 pm

    I haven’t got anything profound to say, but I love the Tagore song. My elderly neighbour introduced me to Tagore music/poetry, and it’s wonderful.
    I can’t think of a way to play this to him, but I know he would find it very moving.

  4. 05/08/2009 11:17 am

    Thank you for the Tagore song, it is very moving, absolutely beautiful
    pete x

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